A nightmare movie is a movie on which everything goes wrong. And when I say everything, I mean everything. If it’s a miserable experience from start to finish, with hellish development and post-production periods to boot, then it’s a nightmare movie. Famous nightmare movies include Jaws and The Hurt Locker, so it’s not necessarily a death sentence, since sometimes you end up striking gold under all the sh*t. But usually, once you start talking about a movie in nightmare terms, you’re doomed.
So it breaks my heart that we have to talk about World War Z in nightmare terms, but yes, it is a nightmare movie. A source for The Hollywood Reporter stated it explicitly—it’s “a nightmare from top to bottom”. But you don’t need a source to tell you that. If you know what to look for, WWZ’s nightmare status has been written on the wall almost from the beginning. And I’m putting the bulk of the blame on Brad Pitt.
I like Pitt a lot, as an actor and a celebrity and a producer. And we know from Moneyball that he’s capable of holding out until the project is juuust right and everything is clicking… so why he got all anxious over WWZ, I’ll never understand. But he ended up compromising too much and has a movie that has no creative direction and is going to require a new screenwriter (Damon Lindelof, which, after seeing Prometheus and its tendency toward mystical sci-fi bullsh*t is NOT reassuring) before embarking on reshoots to fix the ending, which could take five to seven weeks to sort out. Basically, they’re rewriting and reshooting half the movie.
I know you’re going, “Oh, Sarah and her zombies”, (Lainey: if you’re new to the site, Sarah’s a zombie expert, if such thing exists), but what struck me about WWZ when I read the book was that if you remove the zombies, what you’re left with is a chilling and realistic look at just how society could break down if we were confronted with a global interruption like a pandemic. I think that’s what Pitt & Co. aren’t getting about WWZ. It’s not really the zombies that are the scary part - they’re just a stand-in for whatever scenario you prefer for global meltdown (sickness, war, nuclear war, etc). WWZ is a psychological thriller as much as it is a horror story.
I’m also at a complete loss as to why they couldn’t decide what the zombies look like. It’s a BOOK. There’s a pre-existing description—a detailed and thorough one, actually—of what the zombies look like. Why is that even a conversation? Ditto for the ending. It already exists. I suspect that, given Paramount’s decision to cut WWZ down to PG-13 and market it as a potential franchise, they don’t like the morally ambiguous ending in the book. But that’s the problem, and here’s where I’m holding Pitt responsible—WWZ is not family friendly. It in no way is a PG-13 story. I can’t even imagine what they’ve sacrificed to grind it down to that point, but it’s got to be pretty much everything that made the book incredible. Pitt is capable of being a formidable producer, but none of that resolve has been on display for WWZ. It’s pretty much been compromise right from the start.
In the past, Pitt has fought for projects he believes in, so I’m not sure what’s gone wrong with WWZ other than 1) Pitt doesn’t care about it or 2) he fundamentally misunderstood what he was buying when he bought the book rights. Either way, the person in the best position to nurture the project left it in the hands of a director (Mark Forster) that not only has no experience with an effects-driven production but also has as little understanding of the source material as Pitt appears to. Nightmare movies are always the result of two types of directors: either the director doesn’t understand her own movie or the director’s vision is so clear that it can interfere with the other artists and technicians required to make a movie (the latter is when you usually end up striking gold).
Of course, it could always turn around. And no one would be happier to eat her words than me if come next year, WWZ ends up being a genre masterpiece. But I have a sinking feeling that the nightmare won’t end with this one.
Attached - photos of Pitt shooting WWZ last year.